1 Murrayfield men work flat out to save Glasgow tie

THE poor state of rugby facilities in Scotland threw up the second farce inside a week yesterday when it was revealed that Glasgow's crucial European Challenge Cup fixture is likely to be moved to Murrayfield.

The game against Saracens, which will determine which of the two sides qualifies for the quarter-finals, was due to go ahead at Hughenden tonight, but after this week's wintry showers that pitch was so waterlogged yesterday that players were told that there was no chance of the game being played there tonight.

However, the SRU later stated that Murrayfield groundsmen were striving to make the pitch playable, and insisted that they were "exploring a number of alternative venues within the Glasgow Warriors' catchment area" should French referee David Rosich deem the pitch unplayable this morning.

Murrayfield is the stand-by venue for Glasgow, as it was for the Borders when their Heineken Cup match was switched to Edinburgh just two hours before its scheduled kick-off last Sunday when Irish referee George Clancy disagreed with local officials and declared Netherdale unplayable.

However, further complicating the situation, Edinburgh are playing Agen there tonight in a final Heineken Cup pool match and, just three weeks from the first RBS Six Nations Championship match at Murrayfield, groundsmen will fear irreparable damage from two pro games in the same weekend. That would suggest Sunday might be a greater possibility than Saturday were the game to be switched.

Sean Lineen, the Glasgow coach, commented: "Hughenden is very wet, but the snow is melting and we're starting to see grass and with some more wind tonight and tomorrow, and hopefully no freezing temperatures, we're keeping fingers crossed it might happen. It's not off yet because we know there will be a massive advantage lost if we have to shift, whether it's to somewhere else in Glasgow or Murrayfield. We are still hoping that it will be Hughenden and that the work in the morning will give the referee a chance of declaring it playable. It would be a huge shame for our supporters if we couldn't play here because we've been building up to this game nicely."

It is understood the SRU did consider a one-off return to their old Firhill venue, owned by Partick Thistle, but even though the football club do not have home games in the next fortnight they have concerns of their own in light of the current weather and turned down the possibility. New Anniesland, Glasgow Accies' pitch, Ayr's Millbrae, and Dumbreck, home to Cartha Queen's Park, are also in the frame, but though the European Challenge Cup demands are less severe than those in the Heineken Cup, were Glasgow to move the game and still find the pitch deemed unplayable by the referee they could face a heavy fine and the loss of points.

The recent wet weather is undoubtedly the root of the problems as Premierleague football clubs have also watched their pitches deteriorate significantly, but it also highlights the lack of investment in facilities in Scottish rugby.

The Borders had a pitch four years ago better than Murrayfield's, according to the contractors who laid both, but investment at Netherdale has fallen in recent years, while Hughenden, rented from Hillhead Sports Club, is far from international quality.

Both the Borders and Glasgow teams have struggled to find anywhere to run through team drills in recent weeks, indoors or outdoors, and with the "all-weather" pitch at Nethercraigs in Glasgow resembling an ice rink yesterday, Glasgow did not train at all. Considering most of the squad trained with Scotland at Murrayfield on Monday and Tuesday - where the pitches are given first-class treatment - it is hardly good preparation for Glasgow's bid to make the quarter-finals of a European competition for the first time.

Lineen was keen to focus on the match, knowing that it could go ahead tonight if Hughenden becomes playable, and there is a very real chance of his side toppling the Premiership visitors. When they met at Vicarage Road in October, Glasgow led 16-6 at half-time, but were undone by a powerful pack and lost 28-23 after conceding two late penalty tries.

Lineen has made six changes, two positional, to the side which defeated GRAN Parma in Italy last weekend. Rory Lamont replaces Sean Marsden at full-back, Hefin O'Hare takes Lamont's wing berth, and Colin Gregor and Andrew Henderson, who will be up against ex-rugby league man Andy Farrell, return to the starting XV. Graeme Beveridge replaces Sam Pinder, and Samoa prop Justin Va'a is in for Kevin Tkachuk.

Lineen admitted that his pack need to make amends for their struggles in the away game to give his side a chance, wherever the game goes ahead. He said: "Saracens have selected a very big pack again and they will take us on, but we've no doubt our set-piece has improved since then. I know the guys are up for the challenge, because they've talked about little else this week."

See link :- http://sport.scotsman.com/rugby.cfm?id=96462007
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